Prepping Ahead Could Save You

It’s one of the most dreaded screenings: the colonoscopy. But the anticipation — and a little unpleasantness as you prep — is often worse than the actual test.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, claiming about 51,000 lives annually. The good news is that colon cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer if detected early. In many cases, screening can even prevent the disease from developing.

“Most people who have polyps, and even those who have colon cancer, don’t experience any symptoms,” says Edwin Itenberg, D.O., a colon and rectal surgeon at Henry Ford Health. That’s why screening with colonoscopy is so important. The simple procedure allows doctors to detect cancer in earlier, more treatable stages. They can also remove polyps during the exam and prevent cancer from developing.

The American Cancer Society now recommends that for those with an average risk of colon cancer, colonoscopy screenings start at age 45.

Unfortunately, a clean colon is required for doctors to find and remove polyps – and that requires some preparation:

1. Follow instructions.
Prior to your exam, your doctor will provide detailed instructions to help clean out your digestive tract. Call your doctor with any questions.

2. Stock your bathroom.
Pick up physician-prescribed liquid laxative, along with medicated wipes with aloe and vitamin E and skin soothing moisturizer. Consider applying diaper rash ointment or hemorrhoid cream before prep to help protect your skin.

3. Watch your diet.
A few days before, avoid whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and meat. Instead, eat mostly white foods like rice, pasta, bread and potatoes, along with cooked or canned fruits and vegetables.

4. Drink clear fluids.
The day before the screening, eat a clear liquid diet – think apple juice, Jell-O, clear soft drinks, popsicles and broth. Drink a lot of fluids to help stay hydrated. Avoid anything with red, blue or purple dye.

5. Doctor your prep drink.
Some people find the prep drink tough to tolerate. Keep it cold, drink through a straw and suck on lemon-flavored candies after each glass to squelch the unpleasant taste. If the solution doesn’t come flavored, you can add powdered drink mix (but not red, blue or purple). Ask your doctor about the new prep pill, which may be easier to stomach than the prep drink.

6. Stay on schedule.
For many people, the most difficult part of a colonoscopy is making the appointment. On prep day, you’ll need to be close to a bathroom. On test day, you will be sedated and will need time for the medication to wear off.

“Most people don’t even remember the procedure,” Dr. Itenberg says. “And after it’s over, we can tell you if there were any polyps or signs of cancer and when your next scope will be due.”

In between colonoscopies, discuss any changes in bowel habits with your doctor and don’t ignore rectal bleeding. “People tend to self-diagnose rectal bleeding as hemorrhoids, but that’s not always the case,” explains Dr. Itenberg. “It’s better to get checked out.”

To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit or call (800) 436-7936.

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